Is seeking mental health treatment “brave”?
The media is aflutter this morning, touting the public exit of Jonathan Trott from The Ashes as, amongst other things, brave. Even Jeff Kennett, Chairman of mental health organisation Beyond Blue, has come out and said that Trott’s openness in his departure shows courage.
I agree with that, in some respects.
To seek medical treatment for a mental health issue is brave. To talk about it publicly might be construed as brave–not because bravery is required to address a mental health issue, but because of the stigma that still accompanies being forthright about it. It is brave to speak out inspite of the repercussions, some of which are no doubt sub-conscious ones–if you’re competing for a place in an Ashes side with one other player, equal in talent, who hasn’t spoken out about a battle with mental health issues (however small), can a selection panel consider you to be the best person for the job? There is a certain degree of courage required to differentiate yourself in that way.
The first time I told an employer about my mental health issues (in the privacy of her office, not on national TV), I didn’t feel very brave. I felt stupid and weak, like I was tearing myself open and asking her to pour acid into my chest. She said, “Thanks for telling me,” but what I heard was, “You are a faker.” Later on, when I had recovered from the agony of coming clean and no one had sacked me, I felt braver. But in the moment, least brave ever.
So raise these people up and celebrate their bravery, by all means. Get it out in the open, make it okay to have a mental health issue because a sporting celebrity does, or an actor does, or a scientist does. Contribute to the normalisation of treatment of these issues, so that I or you or someone else can go to the doctor and say, “My brain is a bit overripe,” and not be burned at the stake.
But these messages should be accompanied by a little guidance, which is that you don’t need to be brave to seek treatment.
It would be fair to say that people who suffer from mental health issues spend a reasonable amount of time feeling un-brave. And that in the times when they need treatment the most, they are probably close to their point of minimum braveness. We need a little perspective: you don’t have to be brave to seek treatment. If you’re not feeling brave, that doesn’t mean you can’t seek treatment, and it doesn’t mean that you won’t respond positively to treatment. But if you do seek it, even if you’re not front-page news (or if you are), then you’re also brave. It doesn’t matter if you’re feeling brave, or if you’re not feeling brave. You can seek treatment at both of those times, and you will be brave.
You don’t get a say in it. You just are. Jonathan Trott showed courage, and you can show courage, and never once feel like you are actively choosing to be brave, but you are.